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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« How Did Speaking Become Easy? | Main | Meaning Comes First »


Either I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying in this set of comments, or the authors are denying that there are language-specific areas in the human brain, such as Broca’s Area and Werenke’s Area. The latter are clearly implicated in language, and they clearly evolved.

Chomsky is, in many respects, a worthy target. However, he’s also a target that’s shortly going to be past its pull date, according to Max Planck’s famous aphorism, paraphrased as: “Science advances one funeral at a time.” See this interesting article that suggests that Planck was onto something: . Chomsky is also a target that has so many arrows in it that one more isn’t all that newsworthy unless it hits a previously unpunctured field.

Focusing on trashing Chomsky has one real problem: it lets Chomsky set the terms of engagement, specifically by focusing on syntax to the exclusion of other areas of linguistics. There are, for example, language universals. They just happen to be semantic rather than syntactic. See my previous comments on the Natural Semantic Metalanguage.

It seems to me that what we see as “language change” is basically a random walk within the space of all possible and useful languages which is constrained by the structure of the human brain. Suggesting that the random walk has parallels to evolution is rather problematic, as you point out. The evolution of the brain’s linguistic capability takes place on a much longer time frame. It’s likely that there hasn’t been a significant change for long enough that the current set of capabilities has become fixed throughout all humans.

This isn’t quite the same thing as “coevolution,” if I understand the term correctly. Coevolution suggests that languages and the brain’s capability of handling language evolve at the same rate, which, as I said above, doesn’t seem to be the case.

This also points out that the three time scales they mention ignores the fourth time scale: evolutionary time, which happens over tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and which we have no access to. That’s the proper time scale to evaluate the evolution of the language facility.

John Roth
THE BLOGGER REPLIES: The authors mention both Broca's and Wernicke's Areas, but they seem to doubt they are exclusively concerned with language. The authors believe that language depends on functions that evolved but suggest that they are important in more general sequential learning.

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